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On Sailing and Slinging Ink

Copyright 2009 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander

Freedom is my lifelong drug-of-choice. That’s why I’m a sailor, and that’s why I’m a writer. I want to be the freest man in the world. Of course, in order to be free, you have to pay your own way. There is no way around this. It is a fact of life. If you don’t pay your own way, you are, at best, someone’s boy. So I choose to pay my way with my pen—because the writing profession doesn’t require doing distasteful things like wearing shoes, covering my penis with fabric and/or (god-forbid!) mingling with the dirt-dwellers ashore.

Last year I made a very good living with my pen—and never once did I do anything anyone told me to.

I’m about as independent of bean-counters ashore as a modern man can be.

The reason that I have been successful as a writer where so many others have failed is because I realize the reader signs my paycheck. Sure, I have an editor and publisher in the chain—but those are just corporate obstacles to get beyond/around… so I can entertain my reader.

Notice I said entertain? I did not say teach or inform or lecture. I said entertain. That is what I am, a prose entertainer.

I don’t believe in talent. If I have a ‘talent,’ it is my self-discipline. I write four hours a day (8-12) five days a week—and have for 30+ years. Writing is horribly hard work. Being a brain surgeon is far easier—or at least there are more successful brain surgeons than successful freelancers.

But sailing and writing are a perfect match. They go together hand-in-glove. I’m completely lit-up on life. Everything which happens to me—the good, the bad & the ugly—is a story I can’t wait to write down, to share, to celebrate.

If you ‘write it down’ often, you get good at it. Writing is like a muscle: if you exercise it, it gets stronger. You don’t have to be smart—in fact, often intelligence is a hindrance.

Of course, there is a secret to good writing—and that is the capturing of the truth. That is the elemental job of an artist, any artist, to capture the truth. Oh, you can lie to your teacher, your mother and your spouse… but eventually your typewriter reveals you. If you write long enough, the writing submerges and your very own personality shines brightly through, for good or ill.

This is what people think of as ‘style.’ People tell me, “Oh, you have a comic style’ or a ‘…loving style’ or a ‘down-home style.’

I don’t have a style. I just have a weird, watery personality called me—and I’ve written for so long that it comes shining through my prose.

What I do is simple. I have a blank page. The graphic artist has a blank canvas. The movie director a blank screen… and it is our job to inject emotion onto it.

That is what I do. I get the emotion from within my breast onto the printed page… just like Winslow Homer, Ron Howard and Michael Jackson do in their respective mediums.

Laughter and tears are my highest compliments.

…actually, if I was the writer I’d like to be—I’d be able to make you laugh AND cry at the same time.

But I am not the writer I want to be. Not by a long shot. I’m a three on my own scale of ten.

I believe that I have written about 18 to 22 good pages in my 30+ years of trying. This doesn’t discourage me. In fact, it makes me… well, proud.

My goal isn’t to make a million dollars or be on the national best seller lists (although that sure would be swell) but to write another good declarative sentence which makes my readers laugh or cry or think.

The real challenge after all these years is to keep the carrot the correct distance away. If I start thinking I’m clever, I’ll get complacent (smirk, smirk) and will soon lose my creative edge. If I dwell on how far I fall short (by reading Harry Crews or Anne Tyler) then I’ll get too discouraged by realizing that there simply aren’t enough years left for me to properly learn my craft.

So I have to be… well, compassionate with myself. I have to tell myself that, yes, I’ve come a long way—but, yes, I also have a long way to go. I can’t rest on my laurels. I have to add skills to my toolbox on a daily basis. I have to constantly reach for slightly more than I can grasp.

Being a writer and boater are a perfect match. Both are fiercely independent. Both require strong faith, hard work, bravery, and (most of all) tenacity.

I’m 57 and have lived 49 of my years aboard. I’m a perpetual outsider. I live at anchor, surrounded by the world’s most effective moat. I am, literally, All at Sea on many levels. People are my species… but not quite. I maintain a certain distance, a certain strange water-borne objectivity in relationship to the shore-huggers. I live more fluidly, more naturally, closer to the bone.

Mother Nature and Mother Ocean are the same to me. Ditto God. The sea is my cathedral—the face of a wave my personal, private place of worship.

I have simple rules for my national magazine features: #1 Show don’t tell. #2 Illuminate don’t describe. #3 Advance the action.

Every story of mine vaguely follows the same format: the classic ‘Q’ story. I start with people revealing character within some physical action and I make a promise. That’s the beginning. I keep the promise. That’s the muddle… er, middle. And then I refer back to the beginning to give a sense of closure. To put it another way, I start at the top, write everything inside my circle which has to be there and nothing which doesn’t… and then I tie my circle together with a ‘Q’ mark which points back to my beginning to give a sense of finality.

The reason I can be so frank with the innermost professional secrets of my life is that I know 99.9% of the people reading this won’t have the self-discipline to become a successful freelancer—and the few who do will be such wonderful folks, hey, why not help them out?

Once upon a time I was a professional stage actor, and, like all actors, I knew I had to earn my applause nightly.

This ‘earning my applause’ has served me well as a writer—only my national applause now takes between nine and fourteen months to reach my straining, cupped ears.

But when I was an actor, I needed a theater, stage-hands, lighting technicians, etc.

When I played music for money, I needed a bar room, 110 volt plug, an amp, and an audience.

…once, while working as a professional photographer, I happened to notice two lovers in a park. They were about to kiss. I brought my camera up… and, alas, destroyed their romantic moment and my photograph with my intrusive clumsiness.

I have none of these problems as a writer. I am GOD of my page. I need no one. I need nothing. And I deserve all the credit.

This morning I awoke and looked over at my wife Carolyn sleeping beside me. Her face was slack. One hand was thrown back above her dark Italian head, revealing the stubble of her underarm. Her hair was a storm of tangles. She snored. But there was a delicious swell of breast and an enticing roundness of buttock. A dark, arched eyebrow. A strand of rich, luxuriant hair. She has given me much over the years. I’m so grateful to her. I do not deserve her—and yet I am who I am because of her. She was only young once, and she shared that youth with me. And she give me our daughter, Roma Orion.

And she gave me… gives me… respect, encouragement, and support every single day, day-after-day, year-after-year. Sometimes I have to blink to make sure she is real and that she really is my lover—that I haven’t made it all up. We have been together now—undersail as husband and wife—for over 39 years. We are seldom more than eight feet apart—when we laugh, puke, shit or fart. I have seen her at her very best and at her very worst… crying, bleeding and snot-nosed… laughing, dancing, and singing drunkenly at the moon… yet she is still the eternal mystery to me. She is a woman, not a girl. She is my Sphinx. She has secret places. Needs. Talents. Hopes. Fears. And I thrill to make her moan, to watch her toes curl, to, once again, see that secret smile of utter satisfaction… and then to ruthlessly get it all down on paper, precisely so.

What job in this universe could be better?

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of “Chasing the Horizon” by American Paradise Publishing, “Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies” and “The Collected Fat.”  For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com.

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